The Humanitarian Arena: Conflicting World Views and the Struggle over Language
Art der Uni-Arbeit: Seminararbeit
Autor/-in: Nadia Remde
1. Core quotation:
“The humanitarian arena is not ‘out there’. It is discursively
created by agencies, media and other stakeholders. (…) humanitarian situations (…)
are shaped by social negotiations over inclusion and exclusion” (p.1113).
Based on two case studies of humanitarian interventions Hilhorst and Jansen’s
ethnographic study analyses how humanitarian principles and policies work in
reality and in which way actors influence the practices of aid. Their
theoretical framework is based on the deconstruction of the humanitarian space
idea and the deployment of the humanitarian arena concept whereby they refer to
Foucault’s discourse analysis as a tool for analysis.
Taking an actor-oriented perspective they view humanitarian aid as an arena
where various actors with conflicting world views meet and in which the access
to and outcomes of aid are socially negotiated. For legitimatization reasons
humanitarian actors present their work as politically neutral and embedded in
the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence as they construct
themselves as moral actors. However, in reality humanitarian actors operate in
a highly political environment in which humanitarian principles get obstructed
and contextualized through the interests and strategies of various actors who
interact with each other.
As the authors demonstrate through the cases of Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya
and the response to the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka, the responses of the
beneficiaries to aid strongly shape the humanitarian arena. In the Kenya case,
the refugees were no passive recipients of aid but actively strategized around
the topic of resettlement as they employed a rights language to claim
vulnerability and build their identity around being eligible for resettlement.
Aid relations changed as the power of inclusion or exclusion into the
humanitarian arena was no longer only in the hands of UNHCR but shifted to the
refugees who became part of the governance system. The authors describe the
relations between aid dispensers and recipients as mutually dependent as the
aid agencies’ legitimacy derives from constructing the beneficiaries as
vulnerable so as to justify their intervention while the recipients actively strategize
around concepts such as vulnerability so as to enter the humanitarian arena as actors
that can access its resources and services.